The Poodle Revolution

It’s an old ploy to defuse an uprising that that could turn into a systemic challenge: Change the guy at the top and call it a revolution.

By Stephen Gowans

We shouldn’t diminish the significance of what the 18-day uprising in Tahrir Square accomplished, but at the same time we shouldn’t overstate its significance either. A US-backed autocrat was forced to step down. But Mubarak’s ouster, much as we would like to call it the beginning of a revolution, is far from that. A revolution, properly so called, goes beyond a mere change in political form and those who govern. It transforms institutions and transfers property from one class to another.

Perhaps a revolution will come to Egypt in time, but so far all that has happened is that power has been transferred from Mubarak to Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, a long-standing Mubarak loyalist who is a strident opponent of political change, has consistently resisted social reforms and is derided in Wikileaks cables as a “poodle” to Mubarak. (1) Mubarakism hasn’t ended. Mubarak loyalists and Egypt’s military and business establishment remain firmly in charge. (2)

Firmly in charge behind Egypt’s new military rulers is the United States. The Egyptian military is largely an extension of the Pentagon. The Pentagon provides much of its funding and equipment and trains its top officer corps. For the last 30 years, Washington has injected $35 billion in military aid into Egypt, allowed the country to build 1,000 US M1A1 Abrams tanks on its soil, trained Egypt’s officers at US defense colleges, and carried out major military operations from Egyptian bases. (3)

Will Mubarakism—the repressive rule of a US-backed autocrat–be replaced by a multi-party democracy, in which the engineering of consent, rather than the emergency law and secret police, keep the rabble in line? Perhaps. The White House and the State Department are “already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties,” (4) seeking to hem in the outcome of whatever free elections follow.

The opening of political space that a liberal democracy affords is indeed preferable to the Mubarak dictatorship, but if that’s all that comes from the Tahrir Square uprising, the yardsticks will hardly have moved significantly forward.

1. Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Egypt’s military leaders face power sharing test”, The New York Times, February 11, 2011.
2. Thomas Walkom, “Cairo coup welcomed (sort of) by the West”, The Toronto Star, February 12, 2011.
3. Elisabeth Bumiller, “Calling for restraint, Pentagon faces test of influence with ally”, The New York Times, January 29, 2011.
4. David E. Sanger, “Obama presses Egypt’s military on democracy”, The New York Times, February 11, 2011.

5 thoughts on “The Poodle Revolution

  1. Mubarak leaving is a symbolic gesture. It MUST be followed up by institutional reform, from the top down. Mubarak did not run the place by himself; he had henchmen, which unfortunately, are still there in power.
    This Egyptian uprising was a hopeful sign, but it was not extreme enough to get rid of the system, just some faces and some rules. This is not good enough.

    It remains to be seen whether this uprising yields any true changes.

  2. The Egyptian uprising was most definitely a significant event. I don’t think anyone denies this. But does this mean we should then disregard any needed criticism?

  3. The eternal pessimist as usual.Having read your opinions for the last month or so I am convinced that you have made a decision to be a contrarian no matter what.It seems like its either your hobby or a position you must take no matter what.Please sit back sometimes and consider some balance and your same old drum beat will become more interesting.

  4. I just cannot take it in how the people of Egypt have been conned , they have simply exchanged one American backed Tyrant , with one of his loyal henchmen.Now they have what is nohing more than a Military Dictaorship. Approx 300 people have died for what , and it makes me cringe to see them celebrate .

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